Powers of Ten

A Science Oratorio by David Haines
Directed by Lynne Carter

 

Accompanied by David Haines (piano)
Armond Cohen (drums), and
Christopher Edel (bass)

 

Powers of Ten is a 90-minute choral and multimedia presentation that explores the scales of the universe from sub-atomic to cosmic. It was written by contemporary composer David Haines, and its US premiere was performed by the NCFO Festival Chorus as part of the second annual Cambridge Science Festival, April 26 - May 4, 2008.

The NCFO Festival Chorus consists of more than 100 men, women and children drawn from the community, plus 15 singers visiting from David Haines' hometown of Teignmouth in southwestern England.

The three free performances during the week of the Cambridge Science Festival included:

  • Sunday April 27, 6:30 PM, Museum of Science Cahners Auditorium (museum admission not required)
  • Saturday May 3, 1:00 PM, John M. Tobin School, 197 Vassal Lane, Cambridge
  • Sunday May 4, 3:00 PM, MIT Kirsch Auditorium, 32 Vassar Street, Cambridge (Stata Center, 32-123)

The music and summaries of the songs are below. The narrative takes the form of two visionary journeys made by a brother and sister sitting on a beach on a summer afternoon. The boy is gazing at his own hand, and this becomes the starting point of his journey down the magnitudes of scale. The girl is gazing out at the horizon, and this leads her towards her own journey of the imagination up the scales of magnitude.

PART ONE: The Journey Down the Magnitudes (Narrator: Tim Traversy)

  • Introduction: The Beach – An atmospheric evocation of a beach in summer, capturing that feeling of the oneness and strangeness of the universe that sometimes comes to us in a beautiful setting when ordinary things suddenly appear extraordinary and mysterious.
    [performance audio]
  • Ten Fingers (soloists: Clio Macrakis, Erica Jaquith, Julian Knight, Riley McKinney, Jackson Moore-Otto, Nate Quigley, Tyrone Quigley, Tim Traversy) – What is a base, and why do we use base 10? A funky song sung by the boy’s ten fingers, not only describing the numerous functions they are capable of, but with a spoken explanation midway of why base 8 might have been a better number system; and an explanation of the meaning of "powers of 10" as a mathematical concept.
    [performance audio]
  • Life That Lives on Man (soloists: Anisha Nakagawa, Mattie Glenhaber, Robbie Kelley, Jenna Zwanger) – Partly spoken, partly sung, this describes just three of the numerous lifeforms inhabiting the human skin and hair.
    [performance audio]
  • Amoeba – With a spiky, angular melody, the amoebae argue their case: "I would sob with misery if I couldn’t be a blob like me, so what’s so great about being the same shape from day to day?"
    [performance audio]
  • Bacteria – Scientists believe that bacteria were probably the earliest widespread life form on Earth and that their incredible resilience and evolutionary adaptability will ensure their survival until the day Earth is swallowed up by the swollen Sun in a few billion years time.
    [performance audio]
  • Virus – A friendly and informative common cold virus thanks its human host for lending its DNA for reproductive purposes in a very rhythmic and slightly bluesy song.
    [performance audio]
  • Atom (backup singers: Stephanie Green, Sue Hall, Lorraine Adams, Kathy Lindsay, Julian Clutterbuck, Bill Kubicek, Jeff Moore, Ian Shields) – To quote Bill Bryson in A Short History of Nearly Everything: "Neutrons and protons occupy the atom’s nucleus. The nucleus of an atom is tiny – only one-millionth of a billionth of the full volume of the atom – but fantastically dense, since it contains virtually all the atom’s mass. As Cropper has put it, if an atom were expanded to the size of a cathedral, the nucleus would be only about the size of a fly – but a fly many times heavier than the cathedral."
    [performance audio]
  • Charmed Quark (soloists: Bill Kubicek, James Kubicek, Nate Burket, Robyn Lindsay, Galen Boyer, Deirdre Boyer) – In the style of a 50's pop song, three pairs of quarks bemoan their fate – never to be left alone together, since quarks always (well, nearly always) come in threes.
    [performance audio]
  • String (soloists: Stephanie Green, Kathy Lindsay) – An evocation of string theory and of Theories of Everything in general. Strings are the smallest possible size, on the order of the Planck distance.
    [performance audio]
  • The Beach (reprise 1) – A reprise of the opening number returns us to the everyday human scale before the outward journey begins.
    [performance audio]

PART TWO: The Journey Up the Magnitudes (Narrator: Erica Jaquith)

  • Don't Pick the Daisies – Moving out into the countryside, this appealing song, especially suited to very young children, asks walkers and ramblers to refrain from picking the flowers.
    [performance audio]
  • Song of the Tamar Valley – At the level of landscape, the Tamar itself (the river border between Devon & Cornwall) sings of its history of human exploitation in a stately anthem glorifying in the power of Nature to triumph eventually over our puny efforts.
    [performance audio]
  • Tectonic Waltz – This lilting melody recounts the slow choreography of the continents over Earth’s lifetime.
    [performance audio]
  • Drip Drip (soloists: Kathy Lindsay, Stephanie Green) – A witty song for soloist and chorus about the effects of global warming and humanity's inability to face up to the lifestyle changes needed to correct it.
    [performance audio]
  • Planet Earth (soloist: Bill Kubicek) – A somber vision of Earth as a fragile jewel in space.
    [performance audio]
  • Cool Moon – A slow bluesy account of the Moon's cold lifelessness.
    [performance audio]
  • 93 Million Miles – A lively song with a Latin tinge to the accompaniment, full of factual information about the sun and our relationship to it.
    [performance audio]
  • Eight Planets – The introductory section laments the loss of Pluto from the pantheon of planets, explaining why it happened. This is followed by a simple four-part round listing the planets in order of distance from the sun.
    [performance audio]
  • Stargazing – A meditation on the perspective on human existence gained through appreciating the universe's scale and structure.
    [performance audio]
  • Black Hole – A jazzy, joky number about the dangerous characteristics of a black hole.
    [performance audio]
  • Galaxy to Cosmos (soloist: Bill Kubicek) – An evocation in music and words of the vastness of the Milky Way and of its relative insignificance at a cosmic scale.
    [performance audio]
  • The Beach (reprise 2) – A final return to the opening number rounds off Powers of Ten.
    [performance audio]